Austin City Limits: The Survival Guide

Whether you’ve been to several festivals or this is your first one, it always helps to have some go-to tips as every festival is a little bit different. I wasn’t sure what to expect as the other fests I had been to were nothing like each other. The first day was a little rough, but I’d like to think by Day 2 Tyler and I pretty much had it down. Here are some things to know if you’re planning on going to Austin City Limits next year. TLDR; Just go. It’s an amazing experience. 

What do you want your fest to be?

Are you trying to see as many bands as possible? Are you just there to party? Are you there just for headliners? Basically, choose if it’s quality over quantity. The mere fact that a band or artist is playing ACL is a pretty good indicator that they’re worth your time and will be a quality act. If you want to make sure you have a good spot for a headliner, your strategy is going to be different than if you want to make sure you see as many acts as possible. This brings me to my next point. Strategize.

Strategize.

There are 8 stages and around 450,000 people that attend ACL every year. You do the math. Downloading the ACL app will help you keep track of any schedule changes and what time/stage your bands are playing on, but it’s a good idea to have the paper copy they give you on hand because your service is going to suck the whole time you’re there. For example, Phoenix decided to drop in and play a surprise set that wasn’t originally scheduled. If we didn’t have the app we wouldn’t have had the chance to see them.

You’ll quickly figure out that a lot of your favorite acts may be playing at the same time as each other. Sometimes the stages can be farther away from each other. You then have to make a decision as to who you want to see, sacrifices you’re willing to make or maybe even how badly you want to see someone as well as how close you want to be. This will help you come up with a game plan of your schedule and how long you can be at each set.

What about your phone?

I’d suggest going into airplane mode for the majority of the day and using your phone to take videos and pictures only. However, it’s a good idea to be sure that you have your charging cord and an external charger so your phone can charge while it’s on you in between sets. ACL does have a charging station, but again you’ll be competing with thousands of other people to do that.

What should you wear?

Comfort is key. Ladies, I know y’all want to be cute, but trust me when I say don’t sacrifice your comfort level to do that because festivals are a marathon. You can be cute and comfortable at the same time! I’d avoid dark and tight clothing if you can just because Texas heat and humidity is no joke. If you’re prone to getting ridiculous blisters like I am then I have a trick. Make sure you have moisture-wicking socks, light/comfortable shoes and bandaids on hand. Trust me. The last thing you want to ruin your festival experience is huge blisters on the bottom of your feet especially when you’ll be walking so much. If you have Chacos or Teva sandals, those are also lifesavers. Your feet will thank you for letting them breathe. Also, don’t wear new shoes or sandals to ACL. You’ll want them to be broken in already.

Stay hydrated.

Your body will crave water. A lot. It’s cool if you want to drink, but just make sure you’re being responsible. Add water into your rotation. Your body is going to be tired and worn out. I was contemplating bringing a water bottle with a carabiner clip to hook to my purse and decided against it. I wish I would have brought one — or at least a Camelbak. We ended up buying two water bottles a piece when we walked in and filling up at the water stations in between sets. At the beginning of the day the line for the hydration stations moves pretty quickly, but towards early evening you could be waiting in line awhile. The good thing is there are several hydration stations within Zilker Park and they’ll also sell ACL branded Camelbaks and water bottles. The water bottles ran at $15 and the Camelbaks at $65.

How much should you plan to spend inside ACL?

Surprisingly everything inside the fest is moderately priced. Food and drink portions are generous for the price you pay for them. If you had $200 to spend at the fest alone reasonably for all 3 days, you’d probably be ok. Most vendors will take cards, so you don’t necessarily have to have just cash — but it’s not a bad idea to have cash on hand. You can also go cashless by digitally setting up money on your wristband. 

Read the prohibited items list before you get there.

If you bring a large purse or backpack with multiple pockets, they’ll make you lose it. I brought a very small purse with one zipper that strapped across my body and that worked. Tyler ended up bringing a cinch bag that we held most of our stuff in. That worked out really well for us. If you bring lotion, sunscreen or anything that comes in a bottle, make sure it’s not aerosol. Most people bring fanny packs, small bags/totes, or use the pockets in their camelbaks. You can bring chairs. They have a free chair check if you don’t want to lug it around all day. All water bottles and packs have to be empty. You can’t bring your own alcohol in (obviously). Also be careful with things like Tylenol or 5 Hour Energy. I saw them taking that out of people’s bags. There is a bodega inside that is a one-stop shop for all of that stuff and it’s priced pretty fairly.

Be ready to walk. A lot.

Whether you’re walking to the fest or walking around the fest, just be prepared to walk a lot. I think that’s a given, but it differs how much you’ll be walking from fest to fest. You’re going to be tired, but taking some Ibuprofen or Tylenol to keep the aches away helps a lot. (I just showed my age.) You beautiful young people may not worry about that as much as the rest of us. 🙂

Travel smart.

Know how you’re getting to and from the fest. If you’re in town and want to ride your bike they do have stations to lock your bike up. If you’re getting dropped off outside, be strategic. They made us walk all the way around Zilker the first day, which was still a pretty far walk. The second and third day we were lucky enough to have Tyler’s friend and my family drop us off at the GA (general admission) shuttle station downtown. From the time we got to the shuttle to when we were dropped off, it was maybe 20 minutes. This is by far the most convenient option! Plus, there were some awesome Red Bull girls giving us free drinks as we got on. The shuttle was clutch for us. As far as leaving the fest, you’ll either want to coordinate a ride or ACL also has an Uber drop off that is about a 15-20 minute walk outside of the fest exit. We used Uber the first night ($38) and then Tyler’s brother picked us up the following two nights. (BTW, thanks, Jr. You were a lifesaver!)

Don’t buy from the first food vendor you see.

The first day we stumbled over to ACL Eats (where all of the local food vendors are lined up) and grabbed food from the first two vendors we saw because we were so dehydrated, tired and knew we needed to eat something. The next day, we saw these amazing nachos we wanted to try from Salt Lick and ended up going to the end of the line of vendors. There was A LOT of amazing local food to choose from along the way, so be sure you go down the line.

Have a plan to find your people.

You can lose your people in the blink of an eye. Tyler went to the bathroom while we were waiting for Bahamas to play and lost me not even 5 minutes later because the stage filled up so quickly. If you’re going in a group, making a totem is a fun way to find your people. It’s essentially a very large pole with a flag or decoration at the top so you can always be found. If not, then just make plans to meet at certain times by landmarks within the fest. For example, “Let’s meet back here at 1:30 by the bathroom sign or at the bodega next to ACL Eats.”

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Have these things on hand.

  • Some sort of pain killer
  • Sunglasses
  • Disposable poncho
  • Bandaids
  • Water bottle/Camelbak
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Portable charger
  • Charging cord
  • Plastic bag to put your phone inside of in case it rains
  • Cash

Don’t be that guy/girl.

Going to a festival is different than going to an outdoor show at home. The vibe and the people are much more inclusive and welcoming. Don’t be that guy who gets wasted and becomes a jerk. Also, don’t get mad if people are excusing themselves past you to move closer to the stage, to their friends or are dancing really close to you. As I said, about 450,000 people attend ACL every year so it’s going to be packed. Consider these people your friends and family. Everyone is generally considerate and nice. Make sure you return that favor and leave your ‘tude at home.

They always say you’ll feel prepared and unprepared at the same time. That’s so true. You can be really prepared and life still happens. I mean, we thought we were super prepared and our luggage got lost our first day in Austin. Things happen, but you have to keep the positive vibes going. Just make sure you’re comfortable, have a good attitude, stay hydrated and have fun! Austin City Limits is an amazing experience so make sure you get what you want out of it. Like Janelle Monae told us, “Soak this moment in because we’ll never live it again.”

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